Twitter Files: Federal Agencies, Partisan Officials Demanded Accounts Be Removed

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Leading up to the 2020 general election, Twitter received and obliged requests from federal and state government bodies as well as partisan officials to remove accounts they deemed problematic, a Tuesday installment of the “Twitter Files” exposé series reveals.

Throughout the fall of 2020, increasingly more agencies attempted to interlope in Twitter’s content moderation processes, which already involved the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and others.

For example, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) checked in on September 1 to confirm Twitter was heeding the FBI’s flagging of certain accounts, according to emails obtained and analyzed by independent journalist Matt Taibbi. Twitter assured the committee in a “kudos” email that it would be suspending five accounts “for platform manipulation that we can reliably attribute to Russian state actors.”

Previously released internal documents from Twitter exposed that the FBI was in constant contact with the company’s former Trust and Safety head Yoel Roth. Between January 2020 and November 2022, over 150 emails were exchanged between the FBI and Roth. In many instances, the FBI allegedly demanded that Twitter crack down on election ‘misinformation.’

Between September and November 2020, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the state of Connecticut, the National Security Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies reached out to Twitter appearing to nudge it to take action against various individuals and actors.

For example, the unit chief of the FBI Influence Task Force updated Roth in September 2020 that the Treasury updated its list of sanctioned individuals to include Russian agent Andrii Derkach, who the government contended was allegedly engaging in foreign interference to undermine the upcoming presidential election. An attorney from the Connecticut secretary of state’s office notified Twitter of “some suspicious accounts that are ostensibly CT-based and attempting to look official-ish.”

A few days after the 2020 election, the office for Democratic representative and House Intel Committee chief Adam Schiff asked Twitter to ban the accounts of journalist Paul Sperry and others on the grounds that they circulated QAnon conspiracies on the platform.

The committee made several other requests, such as to suppress search results about certain members, to “stop the spread of future misinformation on Twitter” about certain members who “are not public figures and who were not central actors in the impeachment inquiry or 2020 presidential election,” and to “label and reduce the visibility” of certain content. Schiff’s office asked Twitter to curb alleged intimidation from QAnon promoters against aide Sean Misko.

Twitter then put its foot down, rejecting many of the demands in its initial email feedback with responses like “no, this isn’t feasible” and “no we don’t do this,” according to documents.

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